Interview by Chris Simmons
This week, the Spotlight managed to set on Sarah Gilbert just long enough for her to share some things about her new life in Japan. Between her busy weekends, Halloween, SDC, and Taiko drumming, we were lucky she could squeeze us in. Check out Sarah’s interview below.
Why did you choose to join JET?
While I was an undergraduate, I studied a lot of music by Japanese composers. I always studied the cultural backgrounds of the artists of pieces I played, because I felt that it helped me get a better understanding of what went into the music. After learning about the lives of various Japanese composers, I developed an interest in the culture beyond music, and found myself reading everything I could about Japan and endeavoring to learn the language. After I decided to pursue a degree in ESL, I joined my university’s taiko group in an effort to stay involved in music and continue to expand my understanding of Japanese culture. Applying for JET was like the logical next step in merging that cultural interest with my new-found career path in ESL.
What do you hope to gain from JET?
Unless you have wads of spare cash lying around that will allow you to just go hang out anywhere you please for as long as you want (FYI, I don’t), any insight into a culture you can hope to glean as a tourist is surface-level at best. JET gives me the opportunity to understand the inner-workings of Japan on a much deeper level, and I have no doubt that this will give me a much more meaningful appreciation of my experiences as I travel around the country.
What are your plans after JET?
As of now, I intend to move back to the New York City area post-JET and find work there doing something related to language. Whether that’s continuing to teach ESL, improving my Japanese skills until I can get some kind of translation work, or doing something in the travel industry, I have no clue. Some things are better left un-planned, for now!
Do you participate in any clubs or extracurricular activities/hobbies?
Right now, I practice kyūdō 2-3 days per week, I am the newest member of 水神雷太鼓 (Suijin Kaminari Daiko) – a taiko group that practices in Towada City, I’m studying shamisen with Kevin Kmetz in Misawa, and I am training for the Kyoto Marathon in February, 2015. I also intend to get more involved with my school’s brass band and kyūdō clubs in the near future once I get my after-school schedule a bit more under control…
What are a few things you like about Japan?
The fact that there’s always something to do. Japan is so compact that it isn’t too hard to find a beautiful new destination to visit every weekend. There’s always some kind of interesting festival (or five) going on nearby, and every festival is different; local odori, local cuisine, local dialects (that I can’t understand, which I have convinced myself is more amusing than it is devastating). I’ve been out the door, engaged, entertained, and generally mesmerized more in the past 3 months than in the past 3 years of my life.
What are a few things you dislike about Japan?
The fact that there’s always something to do. At the end of the week, all I want is at least one day to sit on my couch and completely veg out, but I inevitably notice something’s going on and I can’t bring myself to miss it. It’s a weekly struggle of, “Okay, this weekend I am scheduling some quality time with my couch and Netflix. Wait, what’s this… Oh, that looks so cool… Okay, maybe next weekend, couch.”
What do you miss the most from your hometown/country?
Those little things I used to look forward to every week; I think everyone has them. A certain food (pizza), a favorite jogging route, football Sunday – they’re these little norms that you don’t realize are unique to your home until you leave and have to find some new norms.
What was it like growing up in your hometown?
It was a nice place to grow up. Safe, quiet, but with easy access to New York City in case the “quiet” got boring, and my house was right next to a small patch of woods, so I had a good balance of urban and faux rural.
What are your family and siblings like?
|My mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother were all teachers, so apparently it’s in my blood. My father is a musician and a pretty talented artist, so I think it’s safe to say I’m a pretty even combination of both of my parents. I’m an only child, so I have no siblings to speak of.\
Do you have any interesting or embarrassing stories about adjusting to Japanese culture?
I think the idea of community ownership of/responsibility for certain things is pretty cool. For example, the other night, I went to my town’s gym (free for town residents) for the first time. I was using the indoor track, and about 10 minutes before closing time, one of the staff members came in and showed me how to turn off all of the lights along the track. He explained that, if it’s late and I’m the only one there, they appreciate the help turning off the numerous lights in the building. He even showed me the best order to turn them off in, so that I can jog by, hit the switches, and end up by the exit door leading to the main hallway. Maybe it’s just me, but little signs of trust like this make me feel much more a part of the community.
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving Day dish?
This is probably going to sound lame, but I could eat nothing but dinner rolls (with butter or some other kind of spread) and I would be completely satisfied. I’ve never been a big fan of turkey, mushy textures freak me out, and I’m just a big sucker for carbs.
Do you have any plans for winter vacation?
For the official vacation part, I’ll be going home to spend time with my friends and family. For the rest of winter, I hope to set out on a bunch of snowshoe excursions and see what an Aomori winter has to offer. Though about 5 minutes into my first snowshoeing experience, I’ll probably wish I just booked a trip to Thailand.
ski or snowboard? I’m more adept at skiing (read: I suck at both, but at least I can actually stand up on skis… momentarily). In truth, I always liked sipping hot chocolate in a warm cabin after skiing more than I actually liked the skiing part itself.
bathe at home or hit up the onsen? I still have yet to visit an onsen, but from what I’ve heard, it’s the way to go.
warm up with tea or hot Dr. Pepper? Hot Dr. Pepper is a thing? Trying that immediately.
stay warm inside or go out and build a snowman? Snowman, for sure. Warming back up afterwards is much more rewarding.